GOP lawmakers deny knowledge of Inman's alleged bribery scheme

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Republican colleagues who received political contributions from a union group opposing a controversial prevailing wage repeal bill are keeping their distance from state Rep. Larry Inman and denying knowledge of his alleged bribery scheme.

Inman, R-Traverse City, was indicted Tuesday on allegations he attempted to sell his vote to the Michigan Regional Carpenters and Millwrights union by pressuring the union to make political donations to himself and 11 other lawmakers ahead of the June 2018 vote.

Inman denies the charges detailed in the indictment, claims he never spoke to any representative "on this deal" and that his attorney will eventually give a full explanation of what he meant by the texts.

Several lawmakers also denied contributions from the carpenters union had any influence on their votes and expressed confusion over Inman's references to the "12" lawmakers. 

Several Republican lawmakers who received contributions from a carpenters union ahead of a controversial vote on prevailing wage in June 2018 said their votes were not influenced by the money.

"I don’t know nothing about it,” said Sen. Pete Lucido, a Shelby Township Republican who served in the House last year. “I just know Larry stands on his own two feet like I do.”

State records show the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights union donated between $3,000 and $5,500 to eight other Republican representatives on a single day, May 16, 2018. 

Of those, six ended up joining Democrats to vote against repeal: Reps. Joe Bellino of Monroe, Gary Howell of North Branch, Martin Howrylak of Troy, Jason Sheppard of Monroe, Brett Roberts of Charlotte and Steve Marino of Harrison Township.

Two lawmakers who received May 16 contributions from the carpenters union voted for repeal: Lucido and Rep. Dave Pagel of Berrien Springs, who was term-limited out of office and lost a competitive Senate primary. 

The union also recorded a ninth contribution of $5,750 to Rep. Jeff Yaroch on May 16, 2018, but the Richmond Republican said he didn't receive the contribution and ended up voting against the prevailing wage repeal. The last check deposited into his campaign account from the union was $250 in November 2017. 

Once it became clear prevailing wage reform was headed to the House, "I stopped accepting that labor money to make sure it was clear that I wasn’t attached and wouldn’t be affected by contributions," Yaroch said.

Inman's texts on June 3 to the carpenters union implied the House had only "12, people to block it" who were promised $30,000 each for their campaigns, but had yet to see the contributions. He urged the union to “get with all the trades,” a likely reference to other skilled trades groups that opposed the prevailing wage repeal.

Records show Inman was one of three Republicans who also received contributions from the Michigan Laborers Political League and the Operating Engineers Local 324. Political action committees are limited to giving $10,000 to state House candidates and members, who could only have qualified for $30,000 if contributions came from three separate groups or were funneled through leadership PACs.

At least one GOP lawmaker, Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, said he was approached by an unnamed union ahead of the vote with an offer to contribute to his leadership PAC in exchange for his support.

LaFave said he did not agree to the deal and reported the incident to House leadership.

“I didn’t even have a leadership PAC — not that it would make any difference if I did,” LaFave said in a statement. “A campaign contribution is not going to influence my vote one way or the other.”

Inman’s references in texts to “12” lawmakers who could potentially block the legislation has prompted calls from liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan for an investigation into the “full scope of the scandal.”

When asked Wednesday about a potential investigation into the 12 lawmakers referenced by Inman in his text, House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, said he had not had a chance to read the indictment and had "no recollection of what he's referencing in those statements."

Prevailing wage pressure

Howrylak, a former state lawmaker who sat beside Inman last session, said he had “no idea” what Inman may have been up to during the prevailing wage vote.

“There was apparently a last-minute change on his part, because sitting next to him, I asked him shortly before the vote, ‘Are you a ‘no’ on this, because I am,’” Howrylak recalled. “He’s like ‘yeah, yeah, yeah,’ and then he voted yes.”

Inman did not try to persuade him on the issue, Howrylak said, but that may be because he was consistently opposed to repeal and had a reputation for digging in his heels.

Howrylak said he was surprised about the allegations against Inman but hopes it spurs additional transparency and accountability in campaign finance laws.

“I doubt he woke up or entered the Legislature thinking that he was going to, you know, ask for a bribe,” Howrylak said of Inman. “I can tell you, there are a lot of people that do make decisions based on (political contributions). I’ve heard it from many people. Just the way they calibrate their conversations.”

Pagel, who ran for state Senate last year but lost in the primary to colleague Kim LaSata, said he was never offered campaign contributions in exchange for his House vote.

“Obviously, (the carpenters union) wanted people to vote with them,” he said. “They stressed that there were a lot of union members in my district, and a lot of them would be supporting them if I made that vote, but that was about as far as it went.”

Pagel said he does not think there was ever a group of 12 lawmakers who were working together on the issue but said special interest groups often have a list of lawmakers they are “targeting” on a particular vote.

“I heard nothing in terms of, you know, hey there’s dollars offered if we stick together or something,” he said. “I heard nothing along those lines.”

Roberts and Sheppard didn't respond to requests for comment.

Where they stood on the repeal

Lucido, who won election to the state Senate last fall, said he was not aware of Inman’s communications with the carpenters union or text messages.

The carpenters union had donated $6,000 to Lucido’s campaign committee through May but revoked its endorsement of the Shelby Township Republican in the wake of the prevailing wage vote.

The union also yanked endorsements for Inman, Bellino and Pagel, accusing all four lawmakers of lying to them ahead of the repeal vote even though Bellino had voted against the measure.

Union officials came to the Capitol for the June 6 vote and “they were upset that certain legislators that came from blue-collar counties would be against them,” Lucido said. “It’s not against them — it’s whatever I believed was in the best interest of the district I served.”

Yaroch said he voted against the prevailing wage repeal and other efforts to adopt initiatives headed to the ballot, such as minimum wage and paid sick leave, because he is a constitutional conservative. He said as much on the House floor the day of the vote.

“I believe an initiative petition brought to the Legislature by the people should be voted on by the people,” Yaroch said the day of the June 6 vote. “For that reason, I vote no in order to allow the people to decide prevailing wage at the polls in November.”

Yaroch said he never looked to Inman for guidance on voting issues and is unsure which lawmakers Inman was referring to in his texts.

Bellino said he was a solid no vote on a prevailing wage repeal “from day one” and didn’t waver in that determination ahead of the June 6 vote. He said the law as it stood protected the paychecks of blue-collar families in Monroe and Wayne counties.

“No campaign contribution or outside influence from anyone would or ever will change that,” Bellino said.

Marino said his mind was set on opposing the proposed repeal long before the May 16 contribution to his campaign. He said the legislation seemed to be a “slap in the face to labor” and studies were inconclusive on whether the repeal would save the state money.

Moreover, “it was more appropriate for the 90,000 people I work for to make that decision,” said Marino. Marino said he only voted to adopt minimum wage and paid sick leave initiatives later that year because of flaws in the language that he hoped the Legislature could fix.

Marino said he was never approached by Inman about his vote on the prevailing wage repeal and declined to speculate on to whom Inman was referring in his text.

“This just seemed like any other hot button issue,” Marino said. “There were pressures just like any other issue, constituents calling into the office on both sides.”

Howell said he’s been “a trade union guy” since he was president of the Lapeer County Intermediate Board of Education and worked with vocational programming for the district.

“I’ve always had a very close relationship with all of the trades, and I’m a Republican that generally votes with the trade unions on all issues,” the North Branch lawmaker said.

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